I’m not exactly sure who was out there clamoring for a sequel to 2012’s “Snow White and the Huntsman,” but somehow here we are. I guess if your movie makes just enough money and doesn’t patently offend anyone’s sensibilities, you can just go ahead and greenlight the sequel.
What’s interesting here is the sequel nobody really wanted turned out to be a far more enjoyable film than its predecessor. “The Huntsman: Winter’s War” has a few things going for it right off the bat. First of all is the cast. You don’t need Stephen Hawking to tell you subtracting mopey, dopey Kristen Stewart and adding Jessica Chastain and Emily Blunt is a winning equation.
The second plus is because this prequel/sequel is spun off from the “Snow White” storyline, it has the freedom to be more original and less beholden to all of our preconceived fairytale notions of charming princes and magical kisses.
So, to break all this down, in the days before Snow White arrived on the scene, Charlize Theron’s evil queen Ravenna lived with her less-evil sister named Freya (Blunt). In a turn that not-so-subtly rips off “Frozen,” Freya realizes her full powers to command ice and snow when she is brutally spurned by her lover.
Freya moves to the north where she wages war, establishes her own kingdom and outlaws love among her subjects. Bummer. She also collects orphaned children and raises them to be her own elite warriors. Her two brightest pupils are Eric (Chris Hemsworth, our titular Huntsman) and Sara (Jessica Chastain), who predictably fall madly into forbidden love and decide to disobey Freya and run off together.
But evil queens aren’t rejected so easily and Freya cruelly splits the two up and banishes Eric from the kingdom. We then flash-forward to the events following “Snow White and the Huntsman” when we learn Ravenna’s magic mirror has been lost. Eric, along with a couple of comic-relief dwarves gamely played by Nick Frost and Rob Brydon, are tasked with retrieving the mirror before Freya can get her hands on it.
As you would expect, retrieving magic mirrors is more easily said than done.
“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is the feature-length debut for director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan, who has spent most of his career directing second units and working as a visual effects artist. He does a solid job here keeping the pacing on track and injecting the right amount of humanity in between all of the spectacle.
There is also more fun this time around. Hemsworth is at his charming best and he and Chastain have good chemistry together. Blunt brings some depth and complexity to her role and Theron’s over-the-top villainy plays better in small doses.
“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is still far from a classic and while it does have a lot more going for it than its lumbering predecessor, that’s still a pretty low bar to clear. You don’t need to run out and see this movie, but if you’re looking for a solid, fanciful two hours of distraction, then you have come to the right place. Plus, no Kristen Stewart (I don’t feel like I can emphasize this enough).
“The Huntsman: Winter’s War” is rated PG-13 for fantasy action violence and some sensuality.